The winds of change are certainly coming to the north shore of Lake Superior.
For the first time in 42 years, Thunder Bay-Superior North voters won’t have an option to re-elect their incumbent MPP when they enter the voting booth on June 2. Only weeks before the election, long-standing Liberal Michael Gravelle announced he wouldn’t be running for health reasons. Gravelle has represented the riding since 1995.
Thunder Bay holds the lion’s share of the votes in the riding that also includes rural communities, resource-dependent small municipalities, and First Nations.
The candidates vying to replace Gravelle are as follows:
- Lise Vaugeois, NDP.
- Shelby Ch’ng, Liberal Party.
- Peng You, Progressive Conservative Party.
- Tracey MacKinnon, Green Party.
- Katherine Suutari, New Blue.
- Adam Cherry, Ontario Consensus.
- Stephen Hufnagel, Ontario Party.
- Andy Wolff, Northern Ontario Party.
Health care is the perennial top issue in Ontario elections but the aging demographic is amplifying a post-pandemic dimension. Thunder Bay’s population is two years older than the provincial average, bringing concerns about assisted living and long-term care to the fore.
Barbara D’Silva is a retired geologist and prospector in her early 60s living with her husband and their 25-year-old son, in the Bay and Algoma area of Thunder Bay. Her mother is on a three-year waiting list for a long-term care home.
She said ensuring those services are there for her mother, and her own generation after, starts with taking care of frontline staff.
“There’s a lack of trained PSWs, personal support workers — and all these health care workers, specifically personal support workers are paid poor wages. These are vital workers,” she said. “It’s got to be addressed because they need more money to do that job, which is not the best job, taking care of elderly and ill people.”
D’Silva has seen the strain on the regional hospital, as well as some long-term care homes failing to meet provincial standards She would task the next government with enlisting more civic engagement to accommodate the needs of constituents in helping to design the kind of health-care system they want.
“I can see what’s happening and I think other people in the public can see what’s happening. Some of them probably have some good ideas of how to improve the situation and I think they should be given the opportunity to do that.”
Thunder Bay via Webequie First Nation
Leslie Myles from Webequie First Nation got stuck in Thunder Bay when the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown began in 2020 and he hasn’t left yet.
The 31-year-old, two-spirit, Mariday Park resident is the primary caregiver for his five-year-old niece. He’s also the community coordinator for the proposed Webequie supply road. He said the next provincial government needs to get on the same page as the federal government, not only for roads but for drinking water systems and social infrastructure in First Nations.
“In my community, we’re trying to get the government of Canada to work with the provincial government to work together to sustain our future,” he said. “We’re trying to get them to be accountable and be responsible, too.”
He’s also deeply concerned for the safety of First Nations youth in Thunder Bay. He wants to see governments rally behind educating non-Indigenous people, going beyond single workplace seminars to help them value the culture and understand the impacts of historical and ongoing colonialism.
“There’s two paths. There’s a destruction path and there’s a healing path. Which path do we take now?” he asks.
“I hear there’s racism. That needs to be worked on, especially what’s happening with our Indigenous people, too, with the homeless. Services, mental health services and healing. People need to be aware of people’s trauma that has been passed down from residential schools.”
The new Greenstone Gold mine on the edge of Geraldton, Ont., is transforming the town that has seen low growth for a generation. An explosion in high-paying jobs stands to benefit the small business economy but a sudden boom has brought new challenges.
Rick Michaud has worked at Barino Construction since he was 13 years old. Anticipating the need for construction amid the increased mining activity, he and a few others bought the company, along with the RONA store in nearby Longlac.
Now, he said he has more work than he can handle.
“When the guys get their paycheque, they’re happier. I guess they’re getting a lot of hours. The hours are there. But we got to be careful not to burn the guys out and also burn ourselves out as owners because I’m basically working seven days a week since the mine started.”
Michaud also still sees supply chain problems that developed during the pandemic slowing down the availability of parts. Between those challenges and the increased cost of living, he said the government should have a role in stabilizing business costs and making it easier for workers to train.
“I think give more opportunities for people, especially to get their driver’s license or AZT and stuff for … truck and trailer,” he said. Wages and ballooning costs for energy are among his other concerns. “The way it’s starting to go with the fuel prices, how high they are, it’s making it way harder to be competitive.”